[lit-ideas] Poetry x 2 = Sabbatical

  • From: "Mike Geary" <atlas@xxxxxxxxxxxxx>
  • To: <lit-ideas@xxxxxxxxxxxxx>
  • Date: Fri, 13 Oct 2006 14:38:10 -0500


Regardless...IÂm not hostile to what you write. I enjoy it.
Given the vehicle of E-mail, we can only investigate each
otherÂs love and understanding of poetry by taking this
debating stance.

I agree. Were it not for this list, I'd probably never have a chance to engage in a discussion of poetry and I enjoy the give and take. You haven't said anything that I would flat out reject, you just give things a different emphasis than I do. "Your priorities are all screwed up, son," as a teacher once told me when I disagreed with him. But I enjoy the exchange.

Lawrence responds -- again -- When I suspected that you misunderstood me, Mike, I wrote (10-10 @ 1013PM): However, I didnât mean to imply that my opinion of Berrymanâs poetry... Didnât you read that, Mike? Since you repeat your mistaken assumption to Eric, after I corrected your misunderstanding, I am tempted to be a little hard on you; <<

Yes, Lawrence I read that. I was merely recounting the development of the debate for Eric, not accusing you of anything. Please don't be hard on me.

Actually, I think you, Mike (if I understand Eric) are more caught up in formula than I am and if this is the current âin way to write and read,â more caught up than is consistent with independent thinking. <<

Damn, you are going to be hard on me, aren't you?

[I am quoting from Edmund Wilsonâs Axelâs Castle, by the way]<<

Oh, no!  Not Edmund Wilson.  I'm done for now!

Axelâs Castle was written in 1931; so what were the American movements after that? Eric and some others will know that better than I, but I recall Lowellâs Life Studies as supposedly inaugurating the âConfessional Schoolâ of poetry.<<

I thank you for the tutorial in Literary History, Lawrence, but I've had enough literature courses to stuff a pig for a Luau. I'm sufficiently well read not only in the literature itself, but in literary criticism to know without doubt that I wasted a good portion of my life. I could have been studying air conditioning.

But Gadamer never went as far as Mike does.<<

He's a scared little boy, what can I say?

Nothing I read in Hermeneutics suggested that anyone would take this Hermeneutical movement to the reductio ad absurdum that Mike seems to be suggesting, i.e., that the readerâs prejudices take precedence over the writers intentions.<<

You still don't get it. If your goal is to determine what the poet's intended meaning is then, obviously, you must look to the ideas expressed in the poem and develop some general proposition. And if it pleases you to try to puzzle out the hidden meaning of a poem, then by all means, have at it. That's the way 99% of the teachers approach teaching poetry (at least when I was a student) and I think it's to the great detriment of poetry. Very, very, very few poems have any thought to them worthy of an adult mind. As George Boas put it in 'Philosophy and Poetry' "...the ideas in poetry are usually stale and often false and no one older than sixteen would find it worth his while to read poetry merely for what it says." And according to T. S. Eliot, neither "Shakespeare nor Dante did any real thinking". Wellek and Warren in 'Theory of Literature" dismiss poetry as ideas: "If we analyse many famous poems admired for their philosophy, we frequently discover mere commonplaces concerning man's mortality or the uncertainty of fate. The oracular sayings of Victorian poets such as Browning, which have struck many readers as revelatory, often turn out mere portable versions of primeval truths....The reduction of a work of art to a doctrinal statement -- or, even worse, the isolation of passages -- is disastrous to understand the uniqueness of a work: it disintegrates its structure and imposes alien criteria of value." (p. 110) I'm not saying that one shouldn't look to a writer's intent, rather, that there's no need to unless you want to. What is the meaning of Stopping By Woods On a Snowy Evening? Is it a poem about suicide? About the call to duty? About absentee landlordism? You and probably most people believe that the poem is about one of those things (or some other), but something! Who we are -- our life experiences -- will go a long way toward informing us of what the poem is about. Frost may have thought he was talking about horse sense -- good old common horse sense. Would you then say, oh, well then, this is a terrible poem?

But it doesn't matter, Lawrence, I'll never convince you, we come from very different planets. But I do enjoy the exchanges. However, I must leave the list for a short while to get some other work done. So I'll see you boys and girls a little later.

Mike Geary

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